April 16, 2009

More on the Bag Bill

The mighty Anacostia.*

I've spoken with a number of people about the Bag Bill over the past couple of weeks. We support the bill, but there are some who have concerns that a fee on plastic bags will have an undue impact on the poor.

Two concerns were raised on multiple occasions that I think deserve an answer:

Why is a fee on plastic/paper bags needed now, of all times? DC is currently spending $50 million dollars annually to clean up the Anacostia river -- and that's not even working all that well. It's so bad that the EPA is about to start fining DC for the pollution. The cost for the EPA fines is a bit hard to calculate, but the Informer is throwing around figures of up to $32,500 a day for the trash in the Anacostia above the maximum daily load. That means, even by conservative estimates, that we’d be looking at fines of a few million dollars per year--even at a time when we're all struggling just to keep small, critical public programs alive. By spending more money on prevention, the city will avoid this fee and decrease the amount we have to spend long-term on litter pick-up, river scrubbings, etc.

What about the non-profit organizations in Wards 7 and 8? Small food pantries often receive their plastic bags as donations from constituents; there is concern that the bag fee would mean that fewer bags are donated to those organizations. Though my personal sense is that the effect of the fee on the supply of donated bags will be small, I also know that there are a number of ways that we non-profits can work together to ensure that there's no negative impact. Bread for the City, for example, buys bags in such bulk that they are just incredibly cheap--and in the past, we've worked with other food pantries to share the benefits of that scale.

But the point of all this is that we should have fewer disposable bags, right? And this bill will generate the funding to provide massive amounts of reusable bags to the public at large, with a specific emphasis on low-income neighborhoods. Bread for the City and a number of other non-profits (including non-profs in River East) have volunteered to be distribution sites for reusable bags, and we will be encouraging people to use those bags at both grocery stores and at our food pantry. We believe that this is a win-win for the community, though we do encourage any food pantry representatives or other public advocates to share any persistent concerns with us.

*picture used courtesy of TrailVoice.


george said...

Hi Matt and all...well...so much I've said on the BBB...Bogus Bag Bill seems to be falling on deaf ears, it makes me quite sad...Yes, we 'small, Ward 7 and 8" non profs SHOULD work together...and, in fact...WE DO! Thats why ALL the pantries in Ward 8, at least the 9 in the Ward 8 Food Pantry Collaborative, are AGAINST this Bill. Can this work, in the end? It will HAVE TO, cause that's what we DO...Feed people. And, as you mentioned, we all DO have to work together. In my opinion, we all SHOULD have be approached, like you BIG guys were...but we were not. We are just the small non prof's in Ward 7 and 8 that only matter to the PEOPLE OF Wards 7 and 8.. And, as hard as I looked, I can't find ONE plastic bag in the picture posted. Bottles and cans and a big piece of wood holding it all together...but no plastic bags. This, I feel, is a sad time for the Anacostia.

Matt Siemer said...

Hi George,

Thanks for taking the time to write. No one is disputing that the Ward 7 & 8 pantries work together. In fact, I believe you do it very well. But in the end the issue with this bag bill shouldn't be the effect it may or may not have on donations of plastic bags to our organizations. I think we can find a solution to deal with that issue.

This is an amazing opportunity for the Anacostia. It's polluted right now. The bag bill will provide much-needed funds to clean it while limiting the effects of the fee on low-income families. I'd be happy to talk to you in person about this and work out some ways to get around decreased plastic bag donations.